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Good supply of workers close at hand

Scott Condon

The efforts of Defend Colorado Now struck a cord with John Ortega on Friday afternoon because of his frustration with Aspen’s recent employment trends.Ortega said it doesn’t make any sense that hundreds of workers are imported by local businesses from places like Argentina and Australia when so many Colorado residents go unemployed.Ortega splits time between Pitkin County and the San Luis Valley, so he’s seen firsthand the need for labor in Aspen and the poverty in south central Colorado.U.S. citizens born and raised in places like Costilla and Conejos counties are in dire need of good-paying jobs, he said. They could help address the Aspen area’s frequent labor shortages. Pitkin County could help reduce the number of people in the state on welfare by recruiting in San Luis Valley, Ortega noted.”Let’s support our own,” he said.Unemployment data compiled by the state of Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment showed that Costilla County had an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent in December, the highest in the state. Conejos County’s rate of unemployment was nearly 7 percent.In contrast, Pitkin County reported a 3.1 percent unemployment rate for December, the latest month available.Defend Colorado Now wants to stop illegal immigration. Ortega was among about 50 people attending a presentation by former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm at the Friday Luncheon in Aspen. Lamm is a leader of the group’s effort.During audience comments, Ortega suggested Aspen could use a little ingenuity – like offering seasonal housing – to attract workers from the San Luis Valley.”The only thing that keeps them from coming is Independence Pass,” he said.